The amount of television shows focusing on food and drink has soared in recent years, but none more so than those of culinary competitions. Whether it’s baking that’s more your cup of tea (The Great British Bake-Off) or television programmes showcasing the skills to become a well-renowned chef (Masterchef), cooking fever is well and truly upon us. The latest television show to join this group in the UK is ‘The Taste’, a Channel 4 programme with celebrity chefs Nigella Lawson, Ludovic “Ludo” Lefebvre (the most stereotypical French man you could imagine) and Anthony Bourdain. As the name suggests, this show differs itself from others by emphasising the idea of the importance of taste, and less so on the presentation of a dish. This concept is understandable to audience members as each ‘dish’ prepared by each contestant must only be placed on a large serving spoon to be tried – but yes, essentially it is still a spoon and so a tiny portion – therefore not much room for presentation in this kitchen. Each of the three celebrity chefs are mentors and thus contestants are allocated to these three separate groups (here especially is where the competition can arise), with each week having a different theme or food product that the contestants need to use in order to wow their judges.
This week ‘The Taste’ presented us with the six remaining contestants in the quarter-finals, with two chefs remaining with each celebrity mentor. The show was kicked off with the introduction of Fergus Henderson, a bizarre yet brilliant chef, who would be the guest judge for the first challenge of the quarter-finals. To the shock of myself as a viewer, the rest of the audience, and no doubt to the contestants themselves, Henderson proclaimed that with the theme of the week being Meat, the contestants were to make a dish containing the offal and offcuts of meat. The more, the better! Or so it would seem, with contestants being directly encouraged to use the likes of pig’s brain and testicles, a sight which would no doubt make the gentlemen watching ‘cross their legs’ as Nigella so delicately put it. The winner, Chloe, was victorious with the bold choice of cooking Blood pudding, apples and crispy pig tail.
The second and final challenge showcased the contestants having to cook a dish from their choice of a selection of the world’s finest meats. With dishes ranging from the arguably simplistic Wagyu steak burger to the extravagant pan seared Iberico pork with ham croquette and salsa, the judges were unfortunately disappointed with the final outcomes, meaning that for the first time in the series, no one was given the prestigious title of having the best dish. It was the worst week for Guan, however, a member of Anthony’s team, who was sent home after his Wagyu sirloin with madeira sauce, celeriac puree and ceps was just not up to scratch according to the judges. So there you have it, into the semi-finals we go with only five contests remaining.
But what about the practicality of the show for us every day folk? The poorer among us students may perhaps turn to tripe in those times of extreme financial hardship, but the idea of cooking offal and offcuts for a special meal has never sprung to my mind immediately, I must admit. Similarly, it is very unlikely that most of us will be able to try out the recipes using the world’s finest meats, coming in at about £60 for the Iberico pork used on the show. Using offal and offcuts in this controversial mannerism and on the other end of the scale, using very expensive fine meat seems a peculiar thing for a television cookery competition to do – surely the idea of these programmes is to showcase to the audience recipes available to try yourself at home? Or is it all about entertainment value in our media driven world? Whatever the case, ‘The Taste’ is a gripping and fascinating watch for the foodies among us, only time will tell if its success is echoed with the rest of the Great British population.